(In anticipation of the coolest day of the year, this month-long series will offer one recommended horror flick a day up through Oct. 31.)
THE DESCENT (2006). Not only did writer-director Neil Marshall's The Descent make my “10 Best” list for 2006, it also continues to rank as one of the finest horror flicks of the new millennium. The story follows six outdoor enthusiasts — all female — as they embark on a spelunking expedition deep in the Appalachian mountains. The competitive Juno (Natalie Mendoza) leads the outfit while Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) tries to overcome a recent tragedy in her life; along with the others, they descend deep into a cavern that's frightening even before its cannibalistic occupants (who look like Gollum's cousins) show up and start tearing into human flesh. The Descent is is so expertly made that it more than holds its own as a full-throttle horror flick, yet it's Marshall's decision to provide it with a psychological bent that puts it firmly over the top. Guilt — or, more specifically, survivor's guilt — is rarely addressed in movies of this kind, yet from its opening tragedy to a shocking incident that occurs halfway through the film (you won't see this coming), the film imbues its female protagonists with messy moral dilemmas that allow them to alternate between heroine and villain, survivor and victim, wallflower and warrior. In fact, there's so much baggage attached to two members of the group that we occasionally forget the other, more immediate menace on hand. But then the teeth start gnashing and the blood starts flowing, and in an instant, we remember all too well.